Dan Sheridan/INPHO

10 ways to make you a faster cyclist right now

Get those funny looking shorts on and get out the door this weekend,

NO MATTER WHAT type of cyclist you are, be it a competitive racer, a weekend warrior or a casual commuter, chances are you want to get to wherever you’re going a little bit faster.

Small changes make huge differences in this sport and if you were to adopt the Dave Brailsford approach of ‘marginal gains’ which focuses on making tiny improvements in a number of areas, you can make quite a significant improvement to your overall performance.

So from uneven pedalling to bad positioning, we’ve compiled 10 very simple ways you can become a faster cyclist and heaven forbid, maybe even arrive to work on time.

1. Learn how to use the brakes on descents

It can frighten the life out of the most experienced rider and even some of the world’s best get it wrong from time to time, but practice, practice and practice some more if you want to go downhill very fast, or in the words of Irish legend Sean Kelly ‘drop like a stone’.

The key thing to remember is if you are going downhill your brakes will take a little longer to fully ‘grab’ the rims of the wheels than if you’re on the flat. But gripping the brakes too tightly for too long will ‘lock up’ the wheels and could force you into an unnecessary skid and a potentially nasty fall. So, pull the brakes for a second, let go, and repeat until you slow down. This is called ‘feathering’ the brakes.

2. Become more aerodynamic

Drag is the biomechanical term used to describe the part of you and your bike that catches wind and slows you down. It’s estimated that when a cyclist moves forward his upper body is responsible for 50% of the drag he encounters. The head is believed to be accountable for around 30% and the other extremities the remaining 20%. To go faster you need to reduce drag as much as possible and the best way to do this is to minimise the parts of you that take the wind. Okay, we don’t suggest removing your arms but lowering your shoulders until they’re as parallel with the ground as possible will make an enormous difference.

This won’t get you many style points heading along Portobello Road in the mornings but it’s worth a look for an indication of what we’re talking about.

3. Pedal full revolutions

Most newcomers to the sport only focus on the downward stroke when pedalling the bike but huge improvements can be made be concentrating just as much on the upward stroke. Granted, the downstroke is the period of greatest muscle activity and where you’ll generate the most torque but by continuing the revolution right through the very bottom and consciously ‘dragging’ your foot up from 6-12 and over the top you’ll go faster and activate more major muscle groups in your lower back, glutes and hamstrings.

4. If you’re turning right on a descent your left leg should be straight and your right knee flexed at 90 degrees.

Similarly, if you’re turning left, your left knee should be flexed and your right leg straight. Why? Because if you turn left with your left leg straight then it’s possible your left pedal will clip the road and cause a possible crash. Secondly, set your gaze far ahead as this is where you’re most likely to go and get as low as possible on the bike to narrow the gap from your centre of gravity to the road. Thirdly, take as smooth a line as possible and don’t go around the bend in the shape of an old 50-pence piece.

5. Have the correct tyre pressure

There’s a trade-off between tyre pressure and stability; the harder the tyre the faster you go but the less stability because there’s less contact with the road. Conversely, the softer your tyre is the slower you’ll go and the safer you’re likely to be – up to a point. If you’re tyre is too flat and you ride on a bumpy road you could quite easily end up riding on the rails – depending on how heavy you are and should you encounter a pothole it’s likely the impact will cause a very unnecessary blowout. On every tyre, be it road, hybrid or mountain bikes there’ll be a recommended tyre pressure on the sidewall.

Abide by this – but keep checking it because tyres do tend to become flat over time.

General view of a bike before the race Ciaran Fallon / INPHO Ciaran Fallon / INPHO / INPHO

6. Set targets

This involves a stop watch and while we don’t endorse breaking red lights of shooting out in front of the Luas, time yourself on your most regular journeys and see can you improve over time. Competition is the best motivating tool and setting a new personal best is a great feeling, no matter what the sport. So take these steps on board and we’ll guarantee you’ll impress the boss when you arrive in lathered in sweat.

7. Fuel up

You need to stay fuelled and hydrated all the time on the bike to prevent the dreaded ‘hunger knock’. It could be a simple banana, homemade energy bar or a fist of nuts but you should never ride on an empty stomach unless it’s just a short hop down to the shop. The ‘knock’ is characterised by heavy legs, heavy sweating, light-headedness and a feeling that you can scarcely turn the pedals! (It’s hard not to miss!). You need to drink at least 500ml every hour and for anything over half an hour, do pop a bar in the pocket. If you’re on a long one of anything over 80kilometres, eating every 20-30 minutes is critical. And remember, if you start to feel hungry, it’s too late. Your body will take another 10-15 minutes to process this food and that’s a whole lot of time under-performing.

8) Do more intervals

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is the biggest crime competitive cyclists make. Buy a speedometer that gives you your average and maximum speed and take note of each of these. If you really want to be serious about it, open up an excel sheet and record these readings after each journey. If you do intervals, that is anything from one to three-minute efforts harder than what your ‘cruising’ pace is, you’ll make significant and very rapid fitness gains. Try doing intervals three times a week. We’ll guarantee you find fitness you never knew was there.

9. Improve your core strength

A strong core provides a stable platform to anchor the leg muscles, increasing power, and supports the upper body, reducing upper body fatigue. Core strength doesn’t mean lots of crunches—these develop the superficial abdominal muscles but don’t provide core stability. Your legs act like levers and a strong core provides a fixed fulcrum around which the upper legs pivot more power to the pedals.

10. Splash the cash

If all else fails, do a Manchester United (or Chelsea, or PSG) and buy the best on the market. There’s no limit to how much you can spend on bikes these days but the sad reality is, you often get what you pay for and a lighter bike (ie more expensive) will go faster than a heavier one, but not by much.

Still, if your cycling extends to no more than a five-kilometre commute, a more expensive bike will get you there quicker and more enjoyably, and you’ll probably look better too. Having said all that, don’t be fooled and do your research before reaching for the credit card.

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